Think about the word hostel. What do you see in your mind? If you see a warm and loved home under massive star-filled skies, rugged mountains that are close enough to touch, and a community of dirtbag travelers, you’ve probably experienced the North Cascades Mountain Hostel. For everyone else, check your calendar and start planning your next trip to Winthrop, Washington. Play hard, sleep cheap.
A good gear shop can be like a temple for adventure seekers. There are unmistakable signs of the wild on the weather-worn buildings that compel passers-by to stop. The old skis crossed and mounted on doors. Tattered prayer flags. Faded and torn posters in the windows from previous generations. There’s even a familiar smell – something between sweat and sap.
I’m not talking about your town’s outdoor co-op chain. This is something so much more enchanting than a good return policy or an anniversary sale. I’m talking about the gear shops that inspired those big-box outdoor markets.
These are the shops off the beaten path that are run by eccentric climbers and skiers. They may keep odd hours or have complicated store policies, but we jump through the hoops because those knotty pine walls and adventure veterans hold secrets to new and exciting places.
At just eight years old, Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies, in the tiny hamlet of Mazama, Washington, is a gear shop temple and manager CB Thomas and his wife, Micki, aim to keep it that way.
CB Thomas, outgoing manager, Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies
To understand Goat’s Beard, you need to understand how CB and Micki came to northern Washington’s Methow Valley. CB was working as an assistant ski patrol director at a resort in Colorado. Micki was running several outdoor shops for another company. The couple had plans to buy the outdoor shops and run them full-time until they backed out of the deal. Both of them were out of their jobs and a change was on the horizon.
In 2010 they packed up their life and headed towards the snow on the eastern side of the North Cascades – the Methow Valley. Missy LeDuc, the owner of the Mazama Store, hired the couple as baristas. CB and Micki knew that their jobs at the Mazama Store weren’t going to sustain them. But the outdoor gods had plans for a new temple.
CB credits Rick and Missy LeDuc family with seeing potential in the couple’s outdoor recreation experience. Within a few months of starting their barista jobs, CB, Micki, and Rick LeDuc began planning what would later become Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies.
The LeDuc family technically owns the store and put up the money to get started, but CB says he has 100% autonomy to run it like his own.
Courtyard of the Mazama Store
Named after a fabled ice formation on Mazama’s Goat Wall, Goat’s Beard opened its doors in 2012. CB and Micki’s store philosophy prioritizes relationships and experiences over high-pressure sales. Walking through the doors, you’re more likely to be asked about the day’s adventure than to be told about the shop’s latest sales promotion. The staff at Goat’s Beard are selling Mazama and all of the magic you can find in the area on foot, by bike, and on skis. The philosophy works.
Inside Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies
Mazama is 20 miles west of Winthrop. It’s not a town, exactly. There’s the Mazama Store which CB affectionately refers to as the center of their universe, the Mazama Country Inn and restaurant, the Goat’s Beard shop, and a literal handful of other businesses. This small hamlet is a jumping-off point for countless adventures in one of the most grandiose stretches of wilderness in the Northwest. But it’s the residents of Mazama, many of whom are second homeowners in the area, that CB credits for at least some of their success.
CB and Micki’s time at the helm of Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies is nearing the end. This winter they will transition out and welcome Claire and Joel Forrest as the new managers.
When I interviewed CB for this story, one of the first things he told me was that they moved to the Methow Valley for biking, climbing, and skiing. Not for the jobs. This year, eight years after the shop opened, when snow covers the valley floor, and the road over Washington Pass closes for the season, CB and Micki will leave their jobs and spend the winter months skiing.
My first encounter with Mazama and Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies was in 2015, three years after they opened. At that time the shop lived in an old cabin behind the Mazama store. I remember seeing CB and Micki together behind the counter. They wanted to know where we were headed for the day.
The Shop has since moved into a brand new building next to the Mazama Store. CB and Micki will spend more time on their skis and that familiar gear shop smell will develop and permeate the new building as seasons of adventure come and go.
Covid-19 has opened up opportunities for remote work, and, as a result, people are flocking to the eastern side of the Cascades to buy their piece of paradise. Property values are climbing, and some trail systems are seeing more traffic. The faces of Mazama and the Methow Valley are changing.
Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies is still young and has years of adventure ahead of it. And while CB and Micki Thomas head back out into the wilds of the Methow Valley, the gear shop lives on.
This story will post a few days before the 2020 election and the environment is on ballots all over the country. While the presidential election dominates national headlines, people from all ends of the political spectrum are seeking refuge in the outdoors from political fatigue. Goat’s Beard is committed to helping adventure seekers make a plan to vote. If you’re away from your home state and find yourself in the Methow Valley, stop in Mazama to vote. Goat’s Beard can accept absentee ballots.
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